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tv   Nightline  ABC  March 17, 2016 12:37am-1:06am EDT

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this is "nightline." >> tonight, emergency rescues from air ambulances. they may have saved your life. but leave you with sky-high bills. with an industry free to set any price, some patients facing hefty debts, even lawsuits, after they've recovered. >> why don't you put the price here? >> our brian ross investigates. >> i can get back with you on that. >> you don't know the answer? >> no, i don't. plus "batman versus superman." why are the good guys going after each other? behind the scenes as ben affleck and henry cavill face off as the two most iconic superheroes of all-time. but first the "nightline" 5.
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good evening. thank you for joining us. millions of americans are rushed to the hospital every year. 400,000 of them transported by emergency helicopter. many times it's a life or death flight where every second counts.
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a sky-high price tag. tonight abc's chief investigative correspondent brian ross examines the big business of air ambulances. >> you're talking about very critically injured patients. traumas, strokes, heart attacks. >> reporter: emergency workers call it the golden hour. the crucial 60 minutes to get medical care for a patient facing death. >> failure to get them to the care probably means they aren't going to survive. >> reporter: that urgent need to beat the golden hour clock that is spawned a nationwide fleet of helicopter ambulances, saving countless lives. but our "nightline" investigation conduct the with abc stations across the country also found it has left many of the very people it saved facing financial turmoil with bills as high as $40,000 or $50,000 for a short flight. >> would you call this price gouging? >> some of it is.
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>> reporter: behind those heart-warming stories of lives saved is a hard-edged air ambulance industry free to set any price it want. >> takes advantage of people at a very vulnerable moment. >> reporter: loren larson, a helicopter pilot himself, says he was stunned at the cost of the quick flight for his daughter after she was injured in a serious offroad atv accident. $47,000 for 79 miles. after insurance and a failed negotiation, he still owes $36,000. >> it's definitely going to cripple us financially. >> reporter: he is not alone. we found hundreds of families. >> i'm worried to death about it. it's very stressful worrying about it. >> reporter: being sued. >> i don't have the money to give them. so my wife and my son and myself don't wind up being homeless. >> reporter: hounded by debt collectors. >> i look, i see the number, i say, i know who it is, i don't want to talk.
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insurance won't cover. >> i feel i can never dig out. >> reporter: some forced into bankruptcy. one after another patients told us how they felt they had been taken for a ride in more ways than one. >> i wasn't asked if i wanted to go on the helicopter. i didn't think it would hurt that bad. >> reporter: 91-year-old warren lowe and his wife ethel were on their way to church in virginia when an uninsured driver slammed into them. >> what's your emergency? >> car wreck on 89. several people hurt. >> reporter: lowe's leg was shattered and doctors at his local hospital wanted him sent to a trauma center 55 miles away. nothing. they just took me, put me in the helicopter, and gone. >> reporter: the cost, $47,000 for a 20-minute helicopter ride. >> i couldn't believe it when we looked at it. $47,000? that's ridiculous. >> reporter: lowe's bill came
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ambulance companies with more than 370 helicopters operating in 48 states. the publicly traded air methods posted profits last year of more than $100 million. even as insurance companies complained their bills were excessive. its ceo, aaron todd, earned almost $500 million last year. >> aircraft hike this serves about a 150-mile radius. >> reporter: but he sent someone else to answer our questions at one of their bases in rural illinois. >> we serve 82 million rural americans across the country who would not have access to trauma care within the critical hour, what's called the golden hour. >> reporter: air methods vice president paul webster said the company is willing to lower its bill for those who can prove financial hardship. he says the real problem that is many insurance companies and medicare and medicaid won't cover the full cost of helicopter flights. >> if everybody paid their fair share, you know what the charge for this service would be?
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>> you're shifting the cost to people who have insurance, and when their insurance doesn't pay, you go after them in court? >> the other choice is -- >> you put them into bankruptcy? >> the other choice is this service and this access goes away. >> reporter: no, it's not, say the people who run a nonprofit air ambulance service, set up by area. care flight. >> so we're going to methodist, this brown building here -- >> reporter: the company with its own fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft -- >> this is an $8 million aircraft. >> reporter: charges substantially less and does not use debt collectors to go after its patients. >> how could you be absolutely committed to saving that person's life and then turn around and sue them? because they can't pay a bill? >> the ceo of care flight, jim schwartz, says air methods has developed a reputation as an aggressive bottom-line company trying to please its wall street investors. >> no one should be surprised a for-profit company acts like a
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you raise the price as high as you can, as fast as you can. and you try to collect as much as you can and use whatever tactics you have to. >> reporter: jean medina got a $35,000 bill from air methods after her teenage daughter, sofia, on a family vacation, developed complications from a tonsillectomy. >> the surgery itself was $16,000. the helicopter was $35,000. it seems a crazy amount of money. >> reporter: after insurance and a protracted back and forth, she still owes $17,000. and medina questions whether her daughter's 37-mile medevac trip was necessary. it took almost an hour for the helicopter just to arrive and load, and she was able to drive the distance in almost the same amount of time. >> i left a few minutes before they took off and ended up arriving at the hospital about five minutes after they did. >> reporter: air methods said its flight crews provide medical care that a ground ambulance could not. >> the same thing could not have been accomplished on the ground. because of the level of care
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helicopter. >> reporter: according to the flight logs for medina's daughter, no extraordinary treatments were necessary. >> if the patient really isn't time sensitive, we can take them by ground and we're a nonprofit, therefore we're not going to try to figure out the most expensive way to do it. >> reporter: the decision to call in a helicopter ambulance is made by attending doctors. but the families, like the larsons of kentucky, are the ones on the hook for the cost. warren larson says he was being treated himself, given morphine, when he signed this air methods consent form for his daughter's medevac trip which in small print made him personally and fully responsible for the bill. >> they said, don't worry about it, it's just a standard form, just give us permission to transport your daughter. >> reporter: nowhere on the standard form does it inform the patient or guardian of the expected cost. >> why don't you put the price here? that. >> you're the vice president in charge of this. this is your standard form.
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so people know what they're signing on for? >> sure, it's a question that i can ask. >> you don't know the answer? >> no, i don't. >> never been raised before? >> no, it has not. >> reporter: state insurance regulators say they have been unable to rein in the prices or tactics air methods and other helicopter ambulance services because of a loophole in the federal law. al redner is the insurance commissioner in maryland. >> when the federal government deregulated the airlines industry, these commercial helicopter companies were part of that. >> as if they're major air carriers? >> that's right. >> you can't regulate them because of faa rules? >> that's right. >> they can get away with these charges, charge whatever they want? >> they can, they can. >> reporter: of course, many of the air methods customers praise the service provided by the company, including kim downs whose daughter suffered life-threatening injuries in an auto accident in illinois.
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yeah. that it was extreme. >> reporter: and recently showed up to thank the flight crew. >> she wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. truly. >> reporter: the bill was $55,000. but her insurance covered it all. and she never had to face the air methods tactics that so many others say they have had to suffer through. >> they're asking for help. they're not asking for threatening their life savings or anything else. they're not asking for a they're asking you to help save their life. >> reporter: for "nightline," this is brian ross, abc news, new york. >> join the conversation on our "nightline" facebook page. next, it's a showdown in the most epic superhero battle of all-time. ben affleck's batman versus henry cavill's superman. we're behind the scenes with the superstar cast. il liqui-gels, you'll ask what body aches? what knee pain?
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they are the good guys of the comic book world. for the first time ever, clark kent and bruce wayne are suiting up for the big screen together, facing on of in an epic battle partnership. chris connelly goes behind the scenes with ben affleck and henry cavill in "batman vs. superman: dawn the justice." >> reporter: he may be the new man in the bat suit. with major bat boots to fill. ben affleck says he's long been drawn to the departments of the dark knight. >> batman's the most interesting
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he's the most like us. he can be kind of broken. which is really fascinating to be coupled with all this heroic stuff. >> reporter: the movie pits the two mightiest icons of the dc comics universe against each other. >> stay down! if i wanted it you'd be dead already! >> reporter: "batman vs. superman" is the -- wait, what? of movie titles. >> it's counter intuitive. you think, a, they're both good guys. and b, how could batman fight superman since superman is an alien and way stronger and invulnerable? >> if you'd ra have a head to head, batman vs. superman punchup, we know who wins. >> reporter: "batman vs. superman" uses multiple story strains jesse isenberg's string-pullingvillian to put the do-gooders at odds.
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end of "man of steel" and its destruction of the metropolis. >> you do have to realize that there is collateral damage which happens and someone's going to get blamed. that someone happened to be superman. >> it was important to sort of see that, yeah, there's consequence. it would be amazing if bruce wayne witnessed that. >> he has the power to wipe out the entire human race. if we believe there's even a 1% chance he's an enemy we have to take it as absolute certainty and we have to destroy him. >> reporter: he takes on 32-year-old henry cavill's superman clark kent. affleck at 43 is the oldest ever to be past at bruce wayne. >> i wanted a batman that had been batman for 20 years. he had the experiences that we know sort of collectively in pop culture. i felt like that character had a chance against superman.
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>> i wanted to be this one of these movies that was ballsy and had something to say. i wanted to do a movie my kids would think it's cool. my son thinks it's cool. >> reporter: samuel, his youngest, led affleck to meet the actor who excelled in the three batman epics who elevated the genre and grossed more than $1 billion tom stick. >> i was in literally a costume shop. not only that but my son, really into batman, wanted a batman costume. i was in the batman aisle. i hear, ben, is that you? i turn around and that's my bad immerse personation of christian bale's voice, who i didn't even realize was british, such a good actor, i'm like, wait a minute. you don't talk like that. it's christian. and he's incredibly sweet, really cool. and he's talking to me about going off and doing the movie. he's like, listen, make sure they put a zipper in that suit, movies.
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>> reporter: inside the suit a physique painstakingly primed to superhero standards. an absolute necessity given impeccable pecs. >> that was daunting. i thought, if i have to be in as trouble. i worked out for almost a year before this movie started to get into becoming a superhero at my advanced age. and that does not come easy. that's what audiences have come to expect. i look at the adam west batman. i think, god, those guys got away with murder. >> reporter: affleck should know. he was in his less-muscular mid-30s when he put on the super suit to play tv's man of steel star george reeves in 2006's "hollywoodland." >> i need to go and have a look at that, maybe i can make fun of
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>> reporter: "batman vs. superman: dawn of justice" cues fan boys and girls the director snyder is looking to amass the justice league, dc's all-star films. with this butt-kicking super sylph making her big-screen debut. >> she with you? >> i thought she was with you. >> my most fun day is when my kids came to set and saw us in the costumes. my son was like, is that the real wonder woman? i was like, yes! that actually is the real wonder woman! you're finally seeing the real one. >> how about when kids see you? what's it like when a child comes across and recognizes kind of who you are? what's that like to be on the other earned of? >> that is probably the scariest part of this. because when a child sees you as superman, there is a lot of
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you're often not expecting it. it's the last minute a parent thrusts their child in front of you and you have to say just the right things. you never know what kids are going to ask, those kids are honest. >> reporter: audiences expected to flock to its march 25th opening will be honest as well. with snyder looking to show "batman vs. superman" is a worthy success tore nolan's films. and affleck eager to provide more than just moral support as his director turns 50. >> are you going to do anything special for him in honor? >> i'm going to give him a lap dance, yeah. it's the only gift i can be sure he won't give back. and he can't regift. >> reporter: for "nightline" i'm chris connelly in los angeles. next, meet the man behind some of the most successful
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and finally tonight, they say practice makes perfect. spending countless hours on the court with serena williams, this once small-time tennis coach is superstar. he's abc's nick watt. >> reporter: behind this great woman's success, serena williams, there was a man. a shirtless man. her hitting partner of eight years. >> whatever i want, whatever i feel like, i have to put my own needs back 24/7. just do whatever is best for her.
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small-time tennis coach when he got the call. >> saturday night, 3:00 a.m. phone call out of nowhere. i even said no at first. just because it was a sunday morning, i didn't want to get up in four hours. >> reporter: he travels over 300 days a year. >> i haven't been in my home since october. i guess the cleaning lady moved in, i don't know. >> reporter: this week it's the bnp open in the california desert where last year he switched course switch ed horses, went to work with victoria. >> does victoria say, put your shirt on, you're drawing a crowd? >> she did once. it wasn't the crowd, i actually put lotion on because i didn't want to get burned and she said i was too shiny. >> reporter: whatever is best for her. he's like the husband my wife wishes i could be. i'm nick watt for "nightline" in indian wells, california. >> there is an old african proverb that may help explain the bond between player and coach.
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if you want to go far, go together. thank you for watching abc news. tune into "good morning america" tomorrow. as always we're online at abcnews.com. good night, america. dr. oz: the case you haven't heard. sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing his roommate. >> i did not kill my friend. dr. oz: can new medical

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